One of the most misunderstood passages in the Bible is the story of the Rich Young Ruler, in Matthew 19. The purpose of the story was not to teach people to the importance of being fully dedicated, fully surrendered and willing to forsake all in order to obtain eternal life. The point was to demonstrate the utter foolishness of thinking we can do anything to earn our salvation.
The key phrase of the passage is “what good thing must I do, that I may have eternal life?” The answer is NOTHING! There’s absolutely nothing any of us can DO to earn eternal life.Jesus was simply trying to show this religious man that he wasn’t as good as he thought himself to be. If forced to rely on our own goodness to earn eternal life, we will fail every time, because none of us are, or ever will be, good enough. “There is none good but one, that is, God,” (Matthew 19:17).
The rich young ruler’s problem wasn’t that he had become wealthy but that, in his pursuit of great wealth and religious rule keeping, he had learned to become self-sufficient. He was completely unaware of his own spiritual poverty. He wasn’t really trusting God. He was merely trusting in himself.
The message Jesus was trying to convey is nicely summed up in His comments to His disciples immediately after His encounter with the young ruler.
“When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.”— Matthew 19:25-26
The message is perfectly clear. Salvation is only possible because God is good, not because we are.